The Financial Express

The indelible mark left by Prof Anisuzzaman

| Updated: June 04, 2020 22:18:41

Professor Anisuzzaman (1937-2020) Professor Anisuzzaman (1937-2020)

Late Professor Anisuzzaman (1937-2020) had never been known as a typical stylist. He was also free of all kinds of mannerism, which are nurtured by many a popular teacher and academic. A number of celebrated scholars and academics everywhere stand out with their distinctive styles in their public appearance during their lifetime. Professor Anisuzzaman, too, had developed a unique style in his own way. It became clear during the shaping of his multifaceted career without any 'intellectual style' --- pronounced and exhibitory. He led a plain life, was never dominant and strictly maintained brevity during talks and speeches.   Nonetheless, he developed a way of impressing upon his audience scores of research-related facts, academic discoveries and the pressing issues of social and national significance. All of these gracefully accompanied a rare elegance. These eventually proved to be the non-stylistic style of Anisuzzaman. In combination, it was more powerful than those of many public figures in our academic and intellectual sectors.

Although the revered professor and scholar left this world in a nearly ripe age, it created a great void. Few of his countless admirers were prepared for this sudden demise. As Professor Anisuzzaman had been suffering from heart ailments for the last couple of years, his recent death from COVID-19, proved posthumously, came as a great shock. It has added to the pervasive gloom in which the nation has found itself struck for over the last two months. Whenever Bengalees deal with a stellar writer as a 'public intellectual', coined by Edward Said, their true identity is normally blurred by a few clichés. These hyperbolic portrayals do great disservice to them. Professor Anisuzzaman narrowly escaped this pop frenzy. It had a lot to do with his innate preference for a low profile in the field of scholarly pursuits. It is in sharp contrast with his teaching career in Dhaka and Chattogram Universities. During the tenure of his teaching career at the then Dacca University in 1959 to his retirement as Professor of Bengali Literature at the same university in 2003, including a stint at Chattogram University, Anisuzzaman came to be known as a 'Sir' to the students having a liking for the thousand-year Bangla language and literature. He was a 'Sir' to every enlightened person. His special passion for teaching earned him the post of supernumerary professor at Dhaka University.

Alongside the long teaching career, Prof Anisuzzaman remained engaged in research studies on the Bangla language. This area discovered a virtually ever-inquisitive researcher in him. It is now indisputably accepted that it was Prof Anisuzzaman who first shed light on the Muslim Bengalees' contribution to the evolution of Bangla. It dates back to the 16th century. Before this discovery, the 18th century British and other Western clergymen used to be credited with the shaping of Bengali writing style --- especially the grammar. It was Prof Anisuzzaman, who debunked the myth of the sole contribution of the Westerners in the development of early Bengali. In order to make in-depth studies in the evolution of Bangla language, the professor took upon himself arduous research works at a number of overseas libraries in different phases in the 1970s.

That Anisuzzaman would be one in the vanguard protecting the honour of Bengali in the then East Pakistan could be sensed as he joined the 1952 Language Movement with all his vigour that he could command. The uncompromising demand that Bangla be declared a state language of the new state of Pakistan, and the students' martyrdom, presaged the future movements for the self-assertion of the Bengalees in East Pakistan. These movements eventually resulted in the great Liberation War of 1971. It witnessed the birth of the independent Bengalee state of Bangladesh. Anisuzzaman participated in all these movements actively. Although his mostly introvert and humble personality belies the flames in his subconscious, Anisuzzaman, then a 15-year school-going adolescent, was seen directly participate in the 1952 Language Movement. Like many of his contemporary youths, the teenage protestor could have stopped his political activism after that turbulent year. Born with a subterranean flamboyance, he was not the youth to dissociate himself from socio-political dissent after seeing Bangla given its due honour. As a young college student, Anisuzzaman involved himself in anti-establishment, or outwardly left movement. This involvement with progressive politics made him an ardent follower of M.N. Roy and his ideology of liberal humanism.

Young Anisuzzaman could have joined the then communist party. Due to his dedication, it would not have taken long for him to become a red card holder. An uncompromisingly independent person as he was, Prof Anisuzzaman had never been the person to become a voiceless, kowtowing member of any organisation. He would honour the belief and ideology which he had felt akin to. But he had never thought of selling out his own view of things to the indiscriminately collective thoughts. It is this individualism which had placed him in the class different from that comprising the average progressive intellectuals. Throughout his long teaching, academic and scholastic career, the socio-politically committed professor and researcher continuously got inspired by the message of liberal humanism. Sill he always interspersed his own beliefs with the thoughts propounded by this school of humanistic thoughts.

Professor Anisuzzaman passed a multi-hued life in the broad academic sphere. However, since the beginning he had felt attracted to research and all kinds of in-depth studies related to the evolution of the Bangla language. He opposed many a well established observation made by a number of British and other linguistic scholars. Different from that of Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, the dedicated English Orientalist and philologist, the chief objective of the scholarly foreign clergy to develop Bengali was to find an easy medium for the natives to understand the message of Christianity. Halhed was driven by the pure urge of a linguist to get to the formative phase of Bangla. The others' interest was aimed at bringing Christianity to the common Bengalees through an accessible Bengali. The inquisitiveness of Professor Anisuzzaman took him far beyond these 'experiments' with the then chaotic state of the language. In his backward journey, he finally stopped at the critical phase of the 16th century. The Bangla language had by then attained the shape of a fully fledged language. In his tireless doctoral research, he stumbled upon a great discovery --- the contribution of the Muslims in the formation of the early Bengali which began 4 hundred years ago. The fact had been unknown to the circles of the Bengalee and overseas philologists till the late 1960s. The whole exercise of the professor in this massive task was dwelt at length in his book 'Muslim Manash 0 Bangla Sahitya'. The professor wrote a number of other research-based Bangla books. They included 'Swaruper Sandhaney', 'Purono Bangla Godyo' and 'Atharo Shataker Bangla Chithi'. Anisuzzaman has written around 100 books. Those include his three-part autobiography in which the readers find a vivid account of his childhood and youth --- mostly in Dhaka, his attainment of intellectual adulthood, his experiences of life under the Pakistani neo-colonial rule, and finally, his direct contribution to the 1971 Liberation War. The three books are 'Kal Nirobodhi', 'Bipula Prithibi' and 'Amar Ekattor'. 

 In his eventful youth, Professor Anisuzzaman unhesitatingly got involved in all the politico-cultural movements from the 1960s to the late 1980s. He proved himself a dedicated activist in the movement (1961) against the Pakistani rulers' browbeating and machinations to foil the celebration of the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore. During this time, Anisuzzaman edited a memorial collection on Tagore despite threats of arrest.

A highly dominant aspect distinguishes the persona of Prof Anisuzzaman. From his adolescence in the early 1950s to his days in the second decade of the 21st century, the individualistic researcher, professor and socio-cultural activist remained completely free of the baggage of orthodoxies and the faintest influence of reactionary thoughts. He was impeccably a modern man, with no dearth of the virtues of humanism.



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